Showing posts with label Debbie Reynolds. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Debbie Reynolds. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (2016)

Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher were two peas in a pod. They were also as different as a mother and daughter could possibly be. In December 2016, the world suffered a tragic loss when Fisher died at the age of 60 and her mother Reynolds died one day later at the age of 84. Their fates were inextricably linked not only as family but also as entertainment legends.

I can name a handful of amazing documentaries that benefit from being in the right place at the right time. Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (2016) is one of those documentaries. Filmed from April 2014 to January 2015, directors Alexis Bloom and Fisher Stevens started this project as a look into the twilight years of star Debbie Reynolds. However, Fisher was such a powerful force both in and out of Reynolds' orbit that it naturally progressed to include her. With the help of producer, brother and son Todd Fisher, the filmmakers dive head first into the lives of these two Hollywood heavyweights.

"Age is horrible for all of us. But she falls from a greater height." - Carrie Fisher

Bright Lights explores the close bond between the two stars and the fraught years that led up to that point. The filmmakers are not afraid to explore the scandals that plagued the family for years. Reynolds' acrimonious divorce from Eddie Fisher, who left her for actress Elizabeth Taylor, is examined at length. On a visit to Todd Fisher's Nevada home, we view his collection of film posters. On one wall is a series of posters that depict the progress of Reynolds' relationship with his father Eddie Fisher.  It starts with Singin' in the Rain (1952) and Tammy and the Bachelor (1957), two films emblematic of Reynolds' stardom. Then it continues to The Tender Trap (1955) where it's said that Frank Sinatra warned Reynolds to never marry a singer. Then there is Bundle of Joy (1956), a remake of Bachelor Mother (1939) that stars both Reynolds and Fisher. It continues with Butterfield 8 (1960) and Cleopatra (1963), two films that hammered the nails into the coffin of the Reynolds-Fisher marriage.

The documentary spends a lot of time in the present day with the pair but is also chock full of clips from home movies showing both Fisher and Reynolds in their prime and at their worst. I was particularly taken with the clip of a 15 year old Fisher being cajoled onto the stage of Reynolds' nightclub act. She sings and her voice is incredible; a gift she inherited from her father. It really blew me away. Fisher reveals that she rebelled against her mother's efforts to direct into a career as a nightclub singer. A tearful Reynolds chokes up at the thought of what could have been.

Bright Lights has a very melancholy feel. Life has been tough for Reynolds and Fisher. The audience gets an insight into the struggles of being an aging entertainer and the complications of growing up in a showbiz family. Then there is the elephant in the room: Eddie Fisher. He abandoned the family years ago and we see some heartbreaking footage of Carrie having a loving conversation with the ailing Eddie a mere three months before he died in 2010. This moment and others are difficult to watch. But life can be difficult and although Reynolds and Fisher come from unique circumstances there is still much the audience, including myself, can relate to.

Then there is the lowest point in Debbie Reynolds' career: the failure to start the museum that would house the Hollywood costumes she collected over the years and the subsequent auctions. We see the third and final auction and how Reynolds struggles to part with many gems including the iconic suits the members of the Rat Pack wear in Ocean's 11 (1960). As a hopelessly devoted fan of that film it broke my heart to see her go through this. The auctions have been a point of controversy in the industry.

Whether you're a fan of Carrie Fisher or Debbie Reynolds or both, there is much to take in about both of their lives. I wasn't as familiar with Fisher's life story but was interested to learn about her Star Wars legacy, her personal problems but also her many strengths. It was tough to watch Debbie Reynolds struggle in her old age and I kicked myself for not knowing she had performed in the neighboring state of Connecticut just a few years ago. I could have attended! In the performance Reynolds' voice cracks and her body threatens to give out on her but she persists. Carrie and Todd jump on stage to give her a reprieve. It's evident that Reynolds's greatest loves were her children and being an entertainer.

Bright Lights (2016) ends with Reynolds accepting the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award in January of 2015. Reynolds was very sick leading up to this moment and we see both Fisher and Reynolds struggling. Knowing what happened almost two years later I finished the documentary with an overwhelming sense of sadness but also of joy that I got to live in a world where Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds lived, loved, laughed and shared their pain and joy with us.

Bright Lights is currently available on HBO.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Unsinkable: A Memoir by Debbie Reynolds

Unsinkable: A Memoir by Debbie Reynolds
April 2013
William Morrow
320 pages

Indiebound - Shop Indie Bookstores
Barnes and Noble

In 1988, Debbie Reynold's autobiography Debbie: My Life was released. It depicted the often times tumultuous life of the perky and vivacious movie star who became famous with her roles in films such as Singin' in the Rain (1952) and The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964). At the time of that book's publication, Reynolds was newly married to Richard Hamlett. Little did she know that more trials and tribulations were waiting around the corner.

Unsinkable: A Memoir picks up in the timeline of Debbie Reynolds life when she married Hamlett in 1984. Reynolds describes her tumultuous marriage to Hamlett, the messy divorce that followed, the rise and fall of her Las Vegas hotel, her daughter Carrie Fisher's emotional and physical problems, her relationship with her son Todd and the repeated disappointments and financial hardships she endured in trying to create a museum for her vast collection of movie memorabilia.

The book is divided into two parts. Part One follows Reynolds life from 1984 to 2011. Part Two kicks off at 2012 and dips back into time following her movie career from 1948 until 2013. It's mostly a continuation of her first autobiography but she does include plenty of information about her early movie career and her troubled marriages to Eddie Fisher and Harry Karl.

Reading Unsinkable was quite an interesting experience for me. Debbie Reynolds is very candid. Some readers might be a little uncomfortable with some of the things she reveals. I don't think I'll ever look at Tony Randall the same way after reading this book. But that very open and sharing nature is just Debbie Reynolds' style. Her personality definitely comes through, whether the writing is mostly hers or that of her co-wrieter Dorian Hannaway. Reynolds also makes some big revelations including the fact that she thinks her third husband Richard Hamlett tried to kill her.

Debbie Reynolds spends a lot of time in this book discussing her passion for movie memorabilia and how she treasured the costumes and props she purchased or collected over the years. In 2011, Reynolds was facing financial difficulties and after years of trying to create a museum for her memorabilia she made the controversial decision to sell the pieces at auction instead. The most famous piece was the white dress that Marilyn Monroe wore in the subway grate scene in The Seven Year Itch (1955). Reynolds spends a lot of time talking about the memorabilia, her attempts at creating the museum, her regrets and how it pained her to auction off all those pieces. She seems genuine enough but sometimes I wondered if she was trying to seek validation from her readers and her skeptics.

By Part Two, I wasn't sure if I would find much value in this book. Her stories were interesting and I was especially intrigued to read about her very complicated relationship with Elizabeth Taylor. However, one chapter into Part Two and I discovered the real value of the book. Starting on page 183, Reynolds goes back to 1948 to her very first movie and reminisces about (almost) each and every movie she made up until her most recent one Behind the Candlelabra (2013) in which she plays Liberace's mother (with whom she was good friends in real life). This part was the most interesting to me. She shares her personal experiences and memories from each of those films. This is what separates a biography from an autobiography in my opinion.

This book has its bias. Reynolds is not afraid to pass judgment on certain people in her life and with some of her over sharing I wonder what she is hiding as well. I tried to take most things in the book with a grain of salt. With that said, Debbie Reynolds is quite charming so it's very likely she'll win you over with her candid style.

So what do I really think of the book? If it wasn't for that movie-by-movie rundown in Part Two, I wouldn't have liked the book at all. That really saved it for me. I would recommend reading Unsinkable if you are very interested in Debbie Reynolds as an actress and a woman and definitely if you had read her first book. It's also for those of you who are curious about Debbie Reynolds' decision to sell her memorabilia and want to know her side of the story.

Thank you so much to William Morrow for sending me a copy of Unsinkable for review!

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